Outreach Program Offers Compassionate Care in the Final Stages of Life

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North York General Hospital recently formally launched the Freeman Centre for Palliative Care, an innovative community outreach and inpatient program that supports adults and their families living with cancer. The Freeman Centre was created through a generous gift from the Freeman Family Foundation and is supported by the community.

The area served by North York General Hospital has one of the “oldest” populations in the city. Over 15 per cent of the population served by North York General Hospital is over age 65. The Canadian Cancer Society identifies age as a risk factor for developing cancer, and the demand for cancer services continues to rise.

To meet the community’s need for cancer-related services, the Hospital focuses on three areas: diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care. The development of a multi-faceted palliative care program brings vital services to patients who require compassionate, dignified care.

“We are pleased to support North York General Hospital in its mission to provide compassionate palliative care to cancer patients in the environment of their choice,” says Dr. Risa Freeman, daughter of Mr & Mrs. Zoltan Freeman. “The Freeman Centre team provides 24-hour care to patients. Their ability to help them get through this difficult time by educating them, showing true compassion, and using their medical expertise should be commended.”

The Centre consists of two components: in-home and in-hospital care. “Our goal is to provide care wherever it is best for the patient – whether at home, in a hospital or other facility,” says Virginia Clark Weir, Clinical Nurse Specialist with the Freeman Centre.

The outreach (in-home) program is made up of health-care professionals who specialize in palliative care. They work with personnel from involved community health care services (e.g. visiting nurses, personal support workers, hospice volunteers) to provide medical and additional nursing support in the home.

The Freeman Centre offers in-home medical services by a group of community-based family physicians with a special interest and training in palliative care. There is an on-call physician available 24 hours a day. Currently there are 13 doctors in the program, 12 who make in-home visits and one who provides hospital care.

“This approach is a little different because we provide palliative care as part of our full-time practice. I feel this approach provides a good balance in our work,” says Dr. Mervyn Jackson, Medical Director. “This allows us to give our patients more personalized care. Patients have someone they can call anytime and also have access to a hospital bed when they need one. We are responding to a real need and it’s very rewarding,” he says.

The medical support focuses on managing symptoms so patients can live in comfort and dignity.

“The individuals on the team are outstanding,” says Virginia. “They go the extra mile such as visiting patients on weekends when necessary and participating on the on-call schedule. There is always a doctor accessible for our patients.”

The palliative care team is available to help people deal with the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual issues that accompany living with a life-threatening illness. With compassion, team members assist families and patients to live with the disease and anticipate what may happen next. The patient and his or her family are encouraged to take an active part in planning care and making choices about the kind of care they want to receive.

Palliative patients are currently admitted to North York General for urgent care. Recognizing the pressing need, the Hospital has equipped four beds for short-term palliative use. The rooms have been painted a soothing colour to create a more home-like environment and equipped with chairs that can be converted into a bed to accommodate a family member who wishes to stay overnight.

In the future, the Freeman Centre in-hospital program will include a six-bed designated palliative care unit.

The Freeman Centre for Palliative Care was created through the generosity of the Freeman Family Foundation and it relies on the support of the community to provide its services. To make a gift to the Centre, please call the North York General Hospital Foundation at 416-756-6944.

North York General Hospital is a multi-site teaching hospital in north central Toronto, and offers a wide range of clinical services in nine program areas: Emergency Services; Family and Community Medicine; Genetics; Long Term Care; Maternal/Newborn Services; Medical Services; Mental Health; Paediatrics; and Surgical Services.